Nonfiction Graphic Novels in Children's Literature: An Interview with Maris Wicks and Calista Brill

By Bailey, Alan R. | Language Arts, May 2018 | Go to article overview

Nonfiction Graphic Novels in Children's Literature: An Interview with Maris Wicks and Calista Brill


Bailey, Alan R., Language Arts


In this interview, author/illustrator Maris Wicks and editor Calista Brill discuss the educational significance and challenges of nonfiction graphic novels for children as well as the role that First Second Books plays in publishing quality graphic novels.

Author and illustrator Maris Wicks and editor Calista Brill discuss graphic novels, a powerful teaching medium for telling stories to a broad range of readers, including visual learners, students who are overwhelmed by full pages of text, struggling readers, and students learning a second language. Covering a wide range of topics and genres, graphic novels can engage students on a variety of levels, encourage them to read, help learners grasp difficult concepts, and enrich their reading experiences. Maris has written and drawn for First Second Books, New England Aquarium, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, as well as SpongeBob Comics, Marvel Comics, and DC Comics. She also has an ongoing collaboration with science communicator/comic artist Rosemary Mosco to create Your Wild City (http://www. yourwildcity.com), a monthly webcomic about urban ecology. Maris was a program educator at the New England Aquarium for eight years, teaching kids to appreciate marine science more deeply. Calista Brill is Executive Editor at First Second Books, where she publishes graphic novels for readers of all ages and interests. Calista particularly enjoys nonfiction graphic novels for younger readers and any book that has a cat or a skeleton in it.

This excerpted conversation was recorded on July 11, 2017, and has been edited for publication.

Alan Bailey (AB): I understand that First Second Books only publishes graphic novels. Calista, please tell me how this imprint came to be.

Calista Brill (CB): First Second was founded in 2006 by Mark Siegel, our Editorial Director, who had been wandering around town with a business plan for a new graphic novel in his back pocket. He ran into the head of Macmillan, the publishing house that we are situated under, at a wedding. They talked, Mark had his business plan with him, and history was made on that day. Mark has had a clear vision for this imprint since the beginning, and it has been beautifully and faithfully carried out as we have flourished in the last 10 years. From day one, his vision was for First Second Books to be dedicated solely to graphic novels, because he saw an opportunity to fill a under-served niche in the American market for high-quality graphic novels for readers of all ages; he knew readers could learn to love the iconic form in a whole new way.

AB: How many titles does First Second Books typically publish annually?

CB: When we started, we were a small house that published a limited list. I think we published around 15 books our first year, but recently, we have grown very precipitously. We doubled our staff and more than doubled our title count.

AB: Amazing.

CB: Yes, it's very exciting for us. It is a great trajectory and the quality of our books keeps getting higher and higher-that's a nice combination.

AB: I totally agree with you regarding the quality of your books. I must admit I was not initially familiar with First Second Books, but after reading many of your titles, you have gained a huge fan.

CB: Thanks so much. And it's worth noting that Maris has been part of the First Second Books family almost since the beginning. When did you publish your first book with us, Maris?

Maris Wicks (MW): It may have been 2010, but I think contract-wise, I've been with the company since 2008.

AB: That's quite a while. What do you feel graphic novels add to children's literature?

MW: The graphic novel format, essentially words and pictures together, is engaging on so many different levels. For reluctant readers, it offers a hook, because I feel readers gravitate toward images. For students learning another language, graphic novels are a great tool because words not understood can often be recognized and vice-versa. …

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